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Data Deficiency:danger TO Environment’S sustainability, by Suraj Saraf,2 July 2007 Print E-mail

Events And Issues

New Delhi, 2 July 2007

Data Deficiency

danger TO Environment’S sustainability

By Suraj Saraf

Not many are aware that India will lose over ten per cent of the Gross Domestic Produce (GDP) on account of environmental costs incurred due to land degradation, morbidity and mortality as a result of pollution, water scarcity, inefficient use of energy resources and loss of forest resources.

As matters stand, the per capita availability of water in the country has gone down. By 2047, India will not only face an acute water scarcity but over 80 per cent of the land area will be lost in soil degradation resulting in loss of agricultural production.

Dependence on import dependence for energy will also see a sharp rise. By 2047, oil imports will be four times the current imports of the entire Asian region and over 60 per cent of our coal requirements will be met by imports. With the country’s weather  vulnerable to climate changes and the with the rising sea level could result in a loss of 9 to 15 per cent in farm revenues. 

These frightening prospects about impending disasters were viewed by R.K. Pachauri, Director General, Tata Energy Resources Institute at a seminar “sustainable development in South Asia. Issues of infrastructure and environment”, held recently in New Delhi.

Moreover, according to the World Health Organisation estimates, pollution in Asian cities results in nearly eight lakh deaths and 4.6 million life-years lost every year. No wonder, India ranks 101 among 146 countries in the Environmental Sustainability Index prepared by the Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy and the Centre for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University in collaboration with the World Economic Forum.

How does one combat this disastrous environmental scenario? Can India avert the looming threat with its National Environmental Policy? Opposed by many environmentalists because of its “soft approach” on issues like biodiversity in the name of development? Against the backdrop that our levels of air pollution, water quality and quantity and biodiversity are also far from satisfactory.

At a workshop on “Environmental data availability and decision making presses” organized by the Indian Institute of Forest Management at Bhopal recently, experts asserted that any national policy to meet these adverse  factors should be backed by adequate honest data on environment management.  Not information that is grossly inadequate to safeguard the country against environmental disasters.

Further the data should not be put on the shelf but translated into action. “The challenge is to see the data on a proactive basis by ensuring that those who have the expertise to collect data become active players in the decision making process,” underpinned a panelist. Another participant felt that the real question that needed to be addressed was the “redistribution of power and social change.”

As there was a strong linkage between information availability and robustness for an effective statistical system when it came to informing the law makers and law enforcers. Additionally there was a need to build up an environmental statistical system as a resultt pf which there has been a rise in litigations due to the failure of the executive to comply with the law and the changes in the society. Another major conflict related to land and natural resources.

Emphasizing that ecology issues could no longer be segregated from economies, the former Director General of the Indian Institute of Forest Management J.B. Lal underscored the importance of integrated resources management and asserted that no system could be viewed in isolation.

A shocking example of the lack of environmental data was highlighted by the Sambhavna, an NGO which has taken up the cause of the Bhopal Gas tragedy. The NGO revealed that the basic data, including the details of the gas leak from the Union Carbide Plant, 20 years ago which resulted in thousands deaths and left many maimed were still not available.

Not only that. Rising environmental crimes was leading to the disappearance of many indigenous tribes, dissipation of forests and was a threat to marine life. The effects of these crimes too were closing in very fast.

Scandalously, data on grazing and cutting of fuel wood on a daily basis from forests, was not quantified nor reflected in our GDP. Notwithstanding the fact that 55 to 75 per cent of the country’s energy requirement was being supplied by forests. Sadly, the energy policy remained oblivious to the energy removal from the forests. The experts stress the urgent perquisite of data on the fuel wood being consumed by the people.

Indeed, India falls disturbingly short of the desirable benchmarks relating to environmental systems: social and institutional, human vulnerability and ecological stresses and policy initiatives in critical areas is woefully short.  The most significant, being the shortfall in pollution control, water quality and quantity, waste management and eco-efficiency, coupled with the neglect by various State Governments.

In the ultimate, Central and the State Governments need to arise from their slumber and take immediate action, not act only when reprimanded by the courts.  India needs to take a cue from the above mentioned Environmental Sustainability Index. It urgently requires to collect data for the sound management of its environment like Finland and Norway that score high in the Global Environmental Safety Index. Clearly, the need of the hour   is to build an environmental statistical system to avert impending environmental disaster.


 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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